The guest work
2023-10-18 • 2024-03-10
Picasso. Mousquetaire à la pipe
Between 1966 and 1972, one year before he died at the age of 92 in his home in the French town of Mougins, Pablo Picasso (Málaga, 1881–Mougins, Alpes Maritimes, France, 1973) displayed a portentous energy which fuelled works like the long series in which he brought the legendary seventeenth-century figure of the musketeer into the twentieth century. More than 450 paintings and drawings depict this figure, made popular by the celebrated Alexandre Dumas novel The Three Musketeers (1844), which Picasso deconstructed and reconstructed again in multiple interpretations following his own unique logic.
In Picasso Year, which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the painter's death, the Santander Foundation and the museum are presenting a new edition (the 69th) of the longstanding programme The Guest Work, this time focusing on the last stage in the genius’s intense career and this particular iconography, which art historians have interpreted as his unbiased, extraordinarily free alter ego.
The Museum of Contemporary Art of the Basque Country-Artium Museoa (Vitoria-Gasteiz) is participating in this important event with Mousquetaire à la pipe (1968), the only Picasso painting in a public collection in the Basque Country. In its honour, it is accompanied by Bust of a Gentleman III (1967) from the collection of the Banco Santander, the programme’s sponsor.
Dating from 1968, Mousquetaire à la pipe exchanges the intimate format of a bust portrait for the complete figure of a soldier who is smoking a smouldering pipe while seated on an armchair with his legs crossed. While Picasso expresses himself with a classic containment in the painting in the Banco Santander collection, in the large Artium Museoa painting he unfurls a battery of frantic manneristic effects and revives the palette with the refined ochre over which the pyramid-shaped composition is placed. In turn, Bust of a Gentleman III, which was made in a single day without any rectifications, shows a figure with historicist echoes and a colour range restricted to green, greyish-blue, purple, black and white spots where the primer shows through.
This is not the first time the Banco Santander Foundation has lent its own pieces to The Guest Work programme. Since it was launched in 2001, works by El Greco, Van Dyck, Gregorio Fernández, Zurbarán, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Cristina Iglesias, among others, have been displayed at the museum twelve times, now joined by this extraordinary Picasso. Likewise, Artium Museoa also regularly partners with the museum in a line that promotes joint work among the different museums in the Basque Country.
Mousquetaire à la pipe, 1968
Oil on canvas. 162 x 114 cm
Museum of Contemporary Art of the Basque Country-Artium Museoa collection
After an operation in late 1965 that prevented him from painting for a while, the octogenarian Pablo Picasso apparently reread the adventure novel The Three Musketeers by the popular French author Alexandre Dumas at his home in Mougins.
Sheltered from the worldly art circus in southern France, Picasso avidly watched TV series featuring the adventures of knights and villains. The musketeers, described as romantic gentlemen of honour from the seventeenth century who were inveterate seducers, swashbucklers and night owls, belong to a popular imaginary that was far from the conflicts in the world, which would soon lead to May '68 in France and the Vietnam War. The severity of conceptual art and the modesty of political-aesthetic activism were incubating at that time under the protective mantles of Marcel Duchamp and the idealists, who envisioned the first utopian avant-gardes.
Picasso chose the manneristic figure of the musketeer, his brilliant velvets, plumed hats, metal-buckled boots, smouldering pipes and sharp swords… and then remade him into a new—albeit late and scandalous—alter ego in his works. This moustachioed gentleman joined the dwarves, clowns and elderly men to became a member of the troupe of icons in the last, innovative decade of Picasso's extensive oeuvre. With a paintbrush, burin or charcoal, his grotesque, antiheroic version of this fictitious figure helped a rejuvenated, misunderstood Picasso, who was even fiercely rejected by the critics at the time, to embark upon a last great adventure in his artistic senescence, which he himself described as 'wrestling with painting': highly skilled and more frantic, ignoring the rules of good technique and with an apparently vulgar yet simultaneously profoundly elegant style.
The paintings like this one are fragmentary constructions, compositions that are as discombobulated in their facture as they are steady in their execution. The lines and scratches, the blotches and overpainted areas crash against and accumulate atop one another as the painter ignored the rules of imitation and 'good taste'. It is a profoundly unfaithful work which prompted a widespread sense of estrangement at the time, the outcome of a talent that no longer heeded the rules imposed when doing things by the book.
From late December 1966 until November 1972, Picasso made around 450 different versions of this figure, both paintings and drawings. He included it in his iconographic repertoires from his vast and fundamental graphic works from Suites 343 and 156, and time and again he portrayed the musketeer as an exaggerated and often deformed figure with satirical postures and gazes and burlesque positions, expressing the disturbing incongruence inherent to a grotesque mentality.
Picasso always showed an interest in other artists' portraits and liked to study and interpret very specific works, which he admired for either their extraordinary artistic facture or their thematic particularity. Rembrandt is often present in the paintings, drawings and engravings from his last decade of work, to which this Mousquetaire à la pipe 1968 belongs. But Picasso neither imitated nor copied. His interpretations, or perhaps more accurately his appropriations, always sought the thrill of taking them a step further. To undertake this conscious exercise in pictorial subversion, he often drew from a resource as effective yet perilous as caricature: destroying the convention provided by nature, exaggerating what he depicted to humanise it and bringing it to this side of the experience of art, a way of representing the world which constitutes an alternative, foreign nature.
The late Picasso who painted this Mousquetaire à la pipe was an eccentric creator aghast at the prospect of decrepitude, obsessed with the energy of sexuality and utterly free because he had no need to prove anything. This, not having to examine oneself, the paradise that any intelligent creator seeks, enabled him to be wild in his ways and suicidal in his shapes, dirty in his palettes and blustery in his brushstrokes.
[ José Lebrero Stals
Director of the Museo Picasso, Málaga
Exhibition: Art and the System (of Art). Act 1. Artium collection, 2017 ]
Bust of a Gentleman III, 1967
Oil on canvas. 73 x 60 cm
Banco Santander collection
Picasso turned 85 on 25 October 1966. Despite his age, his output from the previous years and even the ensuing ones remained prolific. After Guernica (1937), he often signed and dated his works on the back of the canvas, including the day(s) and the month when he had made them. It was very common for him to make his paintings in a single day, as he did this one on 9 June 1967, and for them to have just one figure, not always whole. However, the shapes and colours varied constantly and showed Picasso's inexhaustible inventiveness. In addition to countless images of women, which often referred to his wife Jacqueline Roque, and his recurring theme of painter and model, virile busts historically reminiscent of the seventeenth century were constant subjects.
This figure, which Zervos classifies as a musketeer, reflects this archetype due to its features, although it is lacking the cavalier hat in its characteristic figure-of-eight or skein-shaped that they usually feature. His hair parted in the centre and falling to his shoulders, his undulating moustache and goatee, the shape of his neck and the circular decorations on his clothing all define him as a seventeenth-century figure.
From the standpoint of the cubist language that had predominated in Picasso's works since the early 1920s—with countless nuances, of course—the bust here is naturalistic. However, the way he depicted the eyes is worth highlighting not only because of the two tones—green and black—but especially because each of them has a different shape and placement.
Less noticeable is the horizontal brushstroke of the mouth and the two blotches used to indicate the nostrils. However, the line that crosses the face broadly on the forehead and zigzags down to his mouth is also the consequence—albeit a subordinate one—of his cubist double front-side view of the face. The way he rendered the hair on the right side is unsurprising and very different to the way he did on the opposite side.
That very year, he used this same colour palette several times, although in different proportions and placed differently. In addition to black for the eyebrows, nose and hair, along with some details of the clothing, the mild, slightly greyish-blue, the dark but not sombre green and the somewhat purplish-pink comprise a well-balanced palette that loses violence and energy thanks to the white areas.
[ José Manuel Cruz Valdovinos
Professor of Art History, Universidad Complutense (Madrid)
Banco Santander Collection catalogue (collectively authored), 2020 ]